The State Child Snatchers

Image of an empty baby cot that once contained a child

It seems inconceivable that such things could happen in a modern civilized country...two hours after giving birth, the young mother was lying in her hospital bed when officials from Nottingham social services snatched her baby away.

The damage that this must inflict on the mother, let alone the child, is almost impossible to conceive. But what makes the case worse is that the social workers acted without legal authority. For the moment, Mr Justice Munby has ordered the child reunited with its mother. But the really disturbing aspect is that far from being an isolated incident, it seems to be part of a sinister pattern.

The number of babies under one month being taken into care for adoption is now four a day, a 300 per cent increase on a decade ago. What is more disturbing is that social services have arguably been encouraged to behave in this way by a financial incentive, introduced by Tony Blair to increase the number of adoptions. Instead of trying to place the more difficult older children with parents, local authorities have been concentrating on babies, for whom it is far easier to find adoptive parents. Meanwhile, the number of seven-year-olds being adopted has halved. Mr Blair's perverse incentive is being quietly abolished, but the damage has been done.

This deeply worrying scenario is made worse by the cloak of secrecy surrounding the family courts, where parents are unable to challenge - or even talk about - their decisions, however perverse. Last year, the same judge, Mr Munby, told MPs that " seems quite indefensible that there should be no access by the media, and no access by the public, to what is going on in courts where judges are, day by day, taking people's children away". Today, the judge could take that girl's baby away again, and we wouldn't be allowed to know anything about how that decision was reached. If the mother tried to defend herself in public, she would go to prison.

Of course, vulnerable children must be protected, and social workers have impossible judgments to make. But officials must act within the law. Judges must think more carefully before shattering that all-important bond between a newborn baby and its mother. And the family courts, like the rest of the legal system, must be opened up to proper public scrutiny.

Original source from the Daily Mail 1st February 2008

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